Paper delivered at the Moral Evil in Practical Ethics Conference, Oxford 2012.
Many religious people use the term 'evil' to describe or explain actions and worldly events by appeal to a metaphysics involving the supernatural. A person performed a particular action because they were possessed by Satan; an apparent coincidence was no such thing but was the result of an intervention in the world by a demon, etc. It might be thought that because different religions postulate different supernatural ontologies, there would be a diversity of religious conceptions of evil. However, recent research in the cognitive science of religion suggests that there are very strong similarities in the conceptual commitments made by apparently very distinct religions. On the basis of such research I identify a shared religious conception of evil. This turns out to have much in common with the treatment of evil that falls out of Durkheim's classic analysis of the sacred.